search icon search iconSearch A-Z Index Members IconOnline Giving/Members Portal
Close
Members Icon

Visitors

Welcome to the First Presbyterian Church portal. Please choose an option below to see our events, small groups or to give online.

Close

First Thoughts Blog

Author: Gerrit Dawson, Senior Pastor

American Privilege

Super Shuttle had forgotten me at the Orlando Airport. Only Uber Black (that’s the really nice cars!) was available. My driver was gregarious. Born in Haiti, he had come to America in his teens to play soccer. Now he was a proud U.S. citizen. “I love this country,” he said. “The electricity works all the time. I came here with nothing but soccer skills. Then my knee blew out, but I got great medical care. I worked hard, and now I have my own driving business. My wife became an accountant. We have such a great life here. I love America.”
 
In troubled times, when we’re straining to do better as a nation, it helps to remember just why so many people from around the world want to be here. To me, any discussion about our nation needs to begin with grateful acknowledgement of American Privilege. It flows across the tapestry of ethnicities that make up our nation of immigrants. As my driver said, the electricity works all day long. So does the in-flow of clean water, and, importantly, the out-flow of sewage. I’m thankful every Tuesday for the infrastructure of sanitation. They actually take my garbage away! (If I make the effort to put it in the bin.)  
 
All anyone has to do in a crisis is dial 911. Within minutes, fire, ambulance or police come no matter who you are. Emergency rooms treat any and every one who comes with astounding medical care, whether you can pay or not. Education from pre-K to high school is available to every citizen, including free transportation. Our schools provide ten meals a week to those who need them. Public assistance offers vouchers for food; housing for the disabled and disadvantaged; a host of services to the elderly, those fighting cancer, the demented, the physically handicapped; or those with other special needs. 
 
We have 2.7 million miles of paved roads. Pollution controls have cleaned up the air we breathe. Public libraries are heated and cooled for comfort as they offer both print and electronic resources for free to all. There is land to spread out to. There is natural beauty of such variety and magnitude that it takes your breath away. At the city, state and national level we have beautiful parks. Our nation’s resources have created an overflowing abundance of goods in which everyone can participate. (A Ralph Lauren polo shirt for $2 at the Purple Cow: amazing!) Opportunity for social and economic mobility continues to be the envy of the world. The mightiest military in history protects us. 
 
We freely elect our government officials. We govern by rule of law, with powers divided between three branches, the model of liberty for the world. We still have remarkable freedom to express our opinions and exercise our religion. Moreover, we have the ability to critique ourselves, to have the conversations that lead to change.  
 
Are we perfect? Of course not! But this July 4, I want to begin with gratitude for all we have. And respect for those who sacrificed and labored and fought to make it so. Would I prefer the level of religious freedom that’s in Saudi Arabia? Or machine guns on every street corner like in Cairo? Would I prefer the surveillance culture of China? The heritage of ethnic genocides in Bosnia or Rwanda? The dictatorship of Russia? The poverty of the socialist experiment in Venezuela? No, thank you to all of the above.
 
Even the least among us have great privilege. Even the poor among us have, in the world context, great wealth. American privilege is a precious, priceless privilege that undergirds all our national conversations. We must begin, continue and conclude in gratitude for this nation in which God has seen fit to place us. 
 
Happy Independence Day!
 

Masquerading Worship

Feeling a bit like Darth Vader in my mask, I walked through the Sanctuary greeting a number of families who had come to the confirmation service. I found comfort that we were all doing the same. From a safe distance, I said, “It’s like a masquerade ball. Or a Halloween party. You feel ridiculous getting ready. But once you see that everyone else has on a costume, it’s ok.”  Indeed, it was ok. No, I’m not a big fan of breathing back my own breath. But I get it. We’re helping each other. We’re making the best of the situation given to us. And I’m awfully proud that you are making the effort to regather our congregation in the Sanctuary while following the safest recommendations in a spirit of adventure. Of course you are!
 
Now I don’t mind telling you, leadership in an unchartered crisis is exhausting! Every week, sometimes every other day, we have to pivot. We have to adapt. To plot a new course knowing it might change overnight. I’ve been so impressed with the flexibility and innovation and sheer hard work of our on-the-ground staff. Our team bowls me over with the way they’ve communicated and created worship and ministry for all of us in these strange days.
 
Lately, I’ve found a place to be peaceful. I think our elders have found that same place. We’re sheltering in the leadership that is above us. We’re thankful for and praying for our freely elected government. As long as what the state asks doesn’t compel us to compromise the gospel or doesn’t egregiously and specifically target people of faith, we are glad to follow. To be part of Team Louisiana.   
 
This gives us two strong directions. On the one hand, we want to do everything that is permitted to us to do. Our business is gathered worship. We exist to proclaim the gospel in community for the community. So when we can open at 25%, we do. We energetically embrace what we may do, offering the best we can give to the most who can come. On the other hand, we accept what is prescribed for our safety. If sanitizing, distancing and masking is what is asked, we’re happy to do it. It’s not fun. But it’s what is called for. And that makes me peaceful. 
 
I don’t want to try to think I know better. Nor do I want to live in fear. I want to live boldly within the guidance of what is both permitted and safe. Down this road, lies peace, restoration and love for our community. Just think, no one has ever done this before! We’ll always remember this time. I will always remember your overwhelming love for your church and commitment to our ministry in the heart of Baton Rouge. These days, it’s easy as pie to say I love being your pastor!
 
Gratitude for Steve Rushing 
 
The director of our chancel choir ends his tenure with us this month. Dr. Steve Rushing has partnered with me in leading Classic Reformed Worship for the last fifteen years. His outstanding full-time vocal teaching at Southeastern University and then at Baton Rouge International School have meant that Steve’s service to us has always been on a quarter-time basis. With the arrival of our first full-time worship director who is fluent in both classic and contemporary styles, there is too much overlap to continue with two choir directors. So it is with both sadness and gratitude that we bid farewell to Steve in his official capacity. 
 
But first, we want to celebrate his work among us. Steve raised high the excellence of our choir program. He established the reputation of our music throughout the community and especially amidst the musicians in town. His gracious spirit and love for all kinds of music played a significant role in healing tensions that once existed between our worship styles. Steve has freely offered vocal lessons to many members, taking a personal interest in his choir and enhancing the careers of our student singers. And that voice! Could anyone else have sung the voice of God in Roots and Promises? The annual cantatas with orchestra have become a beloved tradition among us. Seeing and hearing Steve’s great pleasure in getting the most out of his singers and musicians communicates joy to all of us. We will miss his humor, his spiritual insights and his collegiality. 
 
Though social distancing limits our options, we can still heartily celebrate Steve on Sunday, June 21 at the 11 am service. We all want to express our appreciation for this fine Christian man, musician and vocalist. 
 

We’re Rolling! Gathered Worship: Safe and Soaring!

Last Sunday, we gathered for worship and worked through the newness of masks and social distancing. The joy was palpable from singing and praying in the same room. It was great to be back.

So join us! No need to sign up. Just come for 9 am Contemporary and 11 am Classic Reformed.

As of now, there is no gathered Sunday school or nursery, but we will let you know as soon as this is figured out. For the foreseeable future, we will continue to follow guidelines regarding wearing masks, using the North Blvd entrance, and sitting in designated distancing areas by household groups.

Two Wonderful and Weird Services

Wonderful because we can be together in our Sanctuary.

Weird because we have to wear masks and continue with those annoying social distancing practices.

Service times have changed to 9 am and 11 am.

For those worshiping in the Sanctuary, plan to arrive early and use the North Boulevard entrance. We're asking everyone to please wear a mask.

Both services will continue to be livestreamed.

There will be no Sunday school or nursery provided.

How I Went from Worry to Hope

Anxiety. I had it. When our isolation first began, we had to pivot everything. I worried. Would the congregation hold together or fragment? Would people drift apart? Would people decide they don’t really need a church after all? Personally, I had to wrestle with the question, “What exactly is the point of a pastor anyway?” 
 
Staying-at-home offered more time. God led me deeper into his Word. I felt his presence more in prayer. When my sense of self and worry for the church started to wash out with the tide of worry, the Spirit of Christ Jesus flowed in through these times of reflective prayer and study. That, after all, is what our beliefs have told us all along: the Spirit is the glue who keeps us joined to Christ and to one another. He is the magnetic force of our communion. He is the skin and sinew of the body of Christ, keeping us whole. 
 
How wonderful it has been to see the Spirit cohering our church. You didn’t drift away or apart! If the stats are correct, more people, not fewer, are entering the worship we offer. Your beautiful video testimonies have linked us across all ages and stages. Hundreds of you have been checking on hundreds of you! Hundreds of boxes of food have been shared with the community. People continue to meet through Zoom or by phone. Giving continues. The staff pivoted to engage our members and produce our worship and communication, learning more and updating every week. In all, our church has proved herself dedicated, agile and energetic. I’m so thankful, and I’m so proud of you! I’m filled with hope.
 
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
 
The session has called for a special offering to be collected during May to offer relief to our members and neighbors during the pandemic. The first $10,000 will go to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, as we’ve tragically seen how hunger is a real need in our city. The second $10,000 will assist the Christian Outreach Center in their work resettling the homeless population (the pandemic led to the clearing of several “tent villages” in the city). Further gifts will go to our church’s Helping Hands fund to assist church members, partner ministries and neighbors affected by this crisis. We know there will be personal needs when the ripple of government support runs out. We will be offering “grace grants” to church members, who can apply discretely through Barry Phillips. We’d love to help our members over a rough patch, trusting that in years to come, as they are able, they will give back to this same Helping Hands fund. You can give online or through checks marked “Neighbors Fund.” 
 
 
Emerging: May 17?!
 
In an unprecedented crisis, everything is always subject to change. But in hope, we plan using the best information we have. Our hope is that limited gathered worship will resume Sunday, May 17. That looks like two Sanctuary services, 9 am and 11 am, with capacity for 150 worshipers. We will have 50 to 60 sections marked off for family groups or singles to sit while maintaining distance. We will offer sign up online or by phone so we hopefully won’t have to turn anyone away. We will still offer “up close” livestreaming for those at home. Other precautions related to sanitizing will be taken. More details to come the week of May 10. This means we will plan now to go ahead with our Confirmation service at 4 pm on May 17. If demand warrants, we may be able to add an afternoon service in the future. We’ll all have to stay nimble and watch for updates.
 
 
Staff Changes 
 
Happy news: welcome Jaime Carnaggio as our new Director of Women’s Ministry. Jaime has served on our staff since 2015 as an assistant in Children’s Ministry and then with our women. She’s full of love for Christ, her family and our people. She’s a deep, energetic and engaging Bible teacher. She connects to women of all ages and has a passion for sharing Jesus through his Word. While Jaime served 6 months as our interim director, it became clear that she was growing with the job, getting more effective as her responsibilities grew. The session has delightedly endorsed her in this new position.
 
Sad news: the Cato family is moving to Texas in July. Kinch has taken a position as assistant head of a Christian school in Fort Worth. That means we will be losing Audra, who has worked so effectively for a decade. She began leading the renovation of our nursery ministry, turning it into one of our most successful programs. Then we asked her to lead Childhood Ministry, and we’ve seen wonderful growth in the depth of ministry and in numbers of children. We’re going to miss Kinch, Audra, Robert and Helen, but we pray a wonderful new life for them, knowing they will bless many wherever they are. Meanwhile, join us in prayer as we search for a new staff leader in Childhood. 
 

Lent - Day 42

Day 42  Saturday

JESUS

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 28: 16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
 
Luke 24: 36-53
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
 
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
 
And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
 

CAST NOTES

Jesus is really risen. He ate broiled fish before his disciples. One of my favorite images of a real resurrection came through actor Bruce Kuhn. As he recited this episode from Luke, Bruce pretended to pick a fish bone from his teeth. It hit me: this was a real man, risen from the dead. Still Jesus. Of course, he was also transformed, outfitted for an eternal, embodied life, always our brother and advocate.
 
The protagonist of Passion Week has won, against all odds, his great victory. He has withdrawn now until the time of his return to set all things right. So this is the age of the mission of the church. We tell the story of our hero that all might know he is a worthy and sufficient Savior. So all might bend the knee to his kingship. So that all might raise their voice in saving worship as we declare, “Jesus is Lord!” 
 
We live now connected to Jesus by his Spirit that he has sent to dwell in our hearts, to inspire our worship, to grow the fruit of love in our lives and empower our witness. We go forth under the blessing hands and shining face of the ascending, still incarnate Jesus Christ.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

For centuries, this short message by John Chrysostom, has been read every Easter in churches throughout the world. We will make it our final prayer as we anticipate our Easter worship tomorrow.
 
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
 
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below. ”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
 
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
 
O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
 
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
 
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
 
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 41

Day 41  Friday

PETER, PART 4


That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 21: 15-19
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
 

CAST NOTES

After that wonderful breakfast on the beach, Jesus turned his attention directly on Peter. “Do you love me more than these?” I imagine Peter, full of heart, delighted to be asked to express his ardor for Jesus, “You know I love you!” The second questioning, however, might have baffled him. Peter didn’t mind reassuring Jesus. But his affections were never hidden. Of course he loved Jesus. The third inquiry cut Peter to the quick. How could Jesus keep questioning the deepest, truest part of Peter’s very life? What a moment of understanding it must have been when it dawned on Peter. Three times he had denied Jesus. Three times he would be asked to affirm his love to Jesus and before others. These questions were meant for restoration!
 
Years before, as Luke 5 tells us, in the first great catch of fish, Peter had dropped to his knees, ashamed of his sinfulness before Jesus of such holy power. Jesus had assured him of forgiveness by giving him a mission: from now on you will be a fisher of people. Here on the beach Jesus restores Peter by re-missioning him. Feed my sheep! 
 
So, too, we get forgiven and restored, we get opportunity to worship and express our love not just as ends in themselves, but so we can enter the mission Jesus has for us! 
 
With this episode in mind, we can see how personal was Peter’s praise in the first letter we have from him, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1: 3). Indeed, the resurrection turned the dead despair of Peter’s denial into relief so great it made him new and filled him with living hope.
 
Peter’s final benediction in that letter also arises from his profound personal experience, “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5: 10-11).
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Hold this scene of restoration and re-missioning in mind as you pray aloud Peter’s own words of praise and hope:
 
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 
According to his great mercy, 
he has caused us to be born again 
into a living hope 
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading,
kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power 
are being guarded through faith for a salvation 
ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved with various trials,
So that the tested genuiness of your faith—
More precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—
May be found to result in praise and glory and honor
At the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Though you have not seen him, you love him.
Thought you do not now see him, you believe in him,
And rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
Obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 
(1 Peter 1: 3-9)
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


ENCORE

 
Imagine the joy Peter had after Jesus reinstated him! Jesus demanded that he declare his love, and Peter, tested to his core, declared his love for Jesus passionately. Jesus told him to go and feed his sheep. Peter would fulfill that command. His sermons in Acts skillfully, ardently proclaim the news about Jesus. 
 
Soren Kierkegaard wrote,
 
As God created man and woman, so too He fashioned the hero and the poet, or orator. The poet cannot do what that other does, he can only admire, love and rejoice in the hero. Yet he too is happy, and not less so, for the hero is as it were his better nature, with which he is in love, rejoicing in the fact that this after all is not himself, that his love can be admiration. He is the genius of recollection, can do nothing except call to mind what has been done. . . . He follows the option of his heart, but when he has found what he sought, he wanders before everyman’s door with his song and with his oration, that all may admire the hero as he does, be proud of the hero as he is (as quoted in Raniero Cantalamessa, Remember Jesus Christ, 2007, p. 77).
 
Peter well knew that he was not the hero of our redemption story. Jesus is the one hero. Peter rejoiced to take the part of troubadour. His two letters as well as his testimony in Acts overflow with admiration for his champion, Jesus.  
 
And so Peter urged all of us to join him as an orator for Christ, whatever the size of audience, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3: 15, NIV).
 
 

 

Lent - Day 40

Day 40  Thursday

DISCIPLES, PART 3

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 21: 1-14
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
 
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
 
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
 

CAST NOTES

Jesus was alive. But not always with them. He came and went for those forty days between his resurrection and his ascension. Sometimes he taught them the Scriptures, even ate with them (Acts 1: 3-4). Other times he was gone. They weren’t always sure what to do in between. They had gone to Galilee for a while, as the angel had commanded (Matt. 28: 7). In this episode, a restless Peter decided to do what he knew how to do, what he had done before Jesus called him: fish on the Sea of Galilee (aka the Sea of Tiberias).  
 
It was a night much like the one recorded in Luke 5. They had caught nothing. At dawn, they were near the shore and saw an early riser on shore with a charcoal fire. Déjà vu washed through them as he ordered them to cast the net again. As it filled miraculously with fish, John knew. It was Jesus! Great-hearted, impetuous Peter couldn’t wait for the boat to get there, so he leapt into the sea and swam for Jesus.  
 
There’s a great tenderness in the scene that follows. Breakfast on the beach with Jesus. Ordinary fellowship over a basic meal. Extraordinary spiritual communion with the risen Lord. Loaves and fish, so like the feast in the desert that fed five thousand. Broken bread and knowing Jesus, so like the supper at Emmaus. Word and sacrament. Learning and communing. Jesus alive giving them himself.
 
This is a snapshot of the ordinary Christian life. Week by week, gathered worship over Scripture and the Supper. Day by day, time with Jesus as we read his Word by the illumination of the Holy Spirit and pray to him by the prompting of his Spirit within. Speaking to him of ordinary concerns. Being lifted out of our little story into his big story so that our day to day becomes shot through with greater possibility and deeper meaning. The encounters that inform us over a lifetime.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Imagine this scene of breakfast on the beach with Jesus as you pray (or sing!) the words to this classic hymn by Thomas Chisholm: 
 
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided—
Great is thy faithfulness, 
Lord unto me!
 
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
 
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided—
Great is thy faithfulness, 
Lord unto me!
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 39

Day 39  Wednesday

THOMAS

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 20: 24-30
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 
 
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
 

CAST NOTES

We can be thankful for Thomas’ doubts. For he is our man on the scene. Thomas represents all of us who were not there when the risen Jesus appeared. He speaks for us when he voices his concern that these kinds of things just don’t happen. For all of us who feel we missed the one class when the keys to understanding were passed out, Thomas is our man. Others may have been gifted with easy faith, but we have always struggled. We want to know with certainty and there seems little to be had. Go on Thomas, and make your demands for all of us!
 
Curiously, the account does not tell us whether Thomas actually touched Jesus or not. Rather, right after Jesus’ offer, we hear Thomas declare, “My Lord and my God!” (vs. 28). Perhaps he did touch Jesus, or perhaps none of that made any difference. Jesus had come to him in risen glory and offered himself. He exhorted Thomas to put away his doubt and start believing. That was enough for Thomas. Interestingly, the biggest doubter, the last holdout, ended up being the one who made the strongest declaration of who Jesus is in all the Gospels! “My Lord and my God!” This skeptic became the boldest confessor.
 
We all need to turn a sharp eye on the doubts we have. Too often we can let our struggles with unanswerable questions provide cover for us so that we do not have to deal with the Christ who comes and calls us to himself. So we each have to ask, “Would I throw my doubts up even if they were all answered? Or am I ready and waiting for Christ to make himself known to me? Am I anxious to join doubting Thomas as the boldest believer and cry out to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Oh Jesus, my Lord and my God,
Forgive my doubts.
All I ever wanted was for you to be alive.
They said you were,
But I missed it. As usual.
I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Why didn’t you wait til I was there?
I could not release my grief to a dream.
I could not revive hope if you were a fantasy.
How awful that week of waiting was.
They rejoiced; I sulked.
Then there you were!
Inviting me to touch you.
True is the Psalm: 
In your presence is fullness of joy,
In your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 
I did not need to touch after all.
All I ever wanted was not enough.
But you overflowed every expectation.
It was you, alive, everlasting, real.
Oh Jesus, my Lord and my God!
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


ENCORE

In Thomas, we have a guy who is a big realist, and a big doubter. He demands to verify what the other witnesses saw. And once he did, he gave himself to the truth: Jesus is risen!
 
The mystical reality of faith in Jesus is that the once and for all event of Jesus’ days among us, of his cross and resurrection, can cross time and come into our immediate experience. Time and space are no obstacles.  The witnesses have passed the story from one generation to the next.  Thomas saw, and he told. Others believed and received the truth of the resurrection in their very bones. The Spirit came within them and brought about a sense of Christ’s presence they had never had before. He brought power for changed lives. He brought forgiveness and peace. He brought power to tell others. And they experienced the truth. And they told others, and they told others, and now these words are being passed to you. Jesus is risen! (Gerrit Dawson, April 28, 2019 sermon).